HUNTINGTON — Cabell County Judge Gregory Howard said it's satisfying to give someone a second chance and then watch them succeed, knowing the uphill battle they faced to get there.
One woman became known as a runner, but wowed her counselors by facing her addiction head-on. Another woman became a model drug court participant after finding motivation in her children. One man was facing prison time, but defied a bad reputation by working hard at his job. One woman overcame her resistance to the program and then found courage within herself to inspire others.
They joined an exclusive group of people who graduated from more than 52 weeks of the Cabell County Drug Court program. Of the hundreds of people who enter the program throughout the year, only about 50% make it to see graduation. Those who routinely fail to meet the program's strict standards are sent back to jail, ending any hope of a second chance.
"You give them that chance, they grab hold of it and then they get through a yearlong program and be successful. That is very rewarding," Howard said. "It makes coming to drug court every week kind of special and makes you feel like you are making a difference."
Howard said Sandra Writesel made him look at those who run from the program differently. Writesel had been placed in jail and recommended for drug court. Before she could enter, however, she ran from police and was apprehended about two weeks later. She was found by Cabell County Sheriff's Deputies hiding in a closet.
"We typically don't take people who run, but she has opened our eyes to giving second chances to people who are on on the run," Howard said. "She has been amazing in this program."
Howard said he witnessed Writesel undergo a behavioral change.
"It's been a journey that really didn't think I would be standing there," Writesel said. "I have always been a runner, no matter what went at me, I never wanted to stay in one place. I'm here now and I can't wait to see what the next chapter brings me."
For Tessa Dolan, Howard said she impressed those in the program by keeping up with requirements and rarely getting into trouble.
"For so long you have been a model drug court person," Howard said. "You have been an example for a lot of the women who have come into the program since you and how drama-free you a have been for such a long time."
Dolan said everyone in the program has helped get her life back, giving her a relationship with her family again.
"My support system, my mom and my dad, they have been amazing," Dolan said. "I want to thank you guys for having faith in me, having my back and making it possible, mom, for me to come back into my children's life fully."
Probation Officer Matt Meadows said Richard Maze was facing prison time, but was given a second chance thanks to the efforts of his attorney, Shawn Bartram.
"Richard is one of those guys who came into the program, he kept his nose to the grindstone and worked constantly, not just a 15 hours a week kind of job, but a full-time job," Howard said.
Probation Officer Faren Block said Cassandra Spurlock was quite a talker when she entered the program, sometimes talking more than she would listen. A light bulb went off on for how she could succeed in sobriety, she said.
"Everything they got me to do was for good purpose," Spurlock said. "Before today I would have never admitted that, but today it's the truth. They truly care and without them and without God, I wouldn't be here right now."
Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.